Lebanon: Give women equal citizenship rights to men under the nationality law

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12 Jul 2010

Hiam Abd El SamadHiam Abd El Samad and her Egyptian husband Anwar Hasaneen married in Lebanon 23 years ago and have three daughters Nour 17, ‘Amar 12 and ‘Ayia 9 years. The family continues to reside in Lebanon, which they consider their home. However, because Hiam cannot pass her Lebanese nationality to her husband and daughters under Lebanese nationality law, the family has had to suffer significant hardships and deprivation. Hiam has had to bear responsibility for being the primary breadwinner for the family as her husband has difficulty obtaining employment as a foreigner. Without Lebanese nationality, Hiam’s daughters, once they leave school, face difficulties in staying in Lebanon, the only home they have known. For Nour, this meant she was married off at 15 years of age to a relative in Egypt. In addition, Anwar and the daughters are not eligible for health insurance making it difficult for them to cover medical expenses particularly for ‘Amar who has needed surgery. Considered foreigners, the girls cannot claim social benefits either, which would otherwise help cover special school fees for ‘Ayia who is dyslexic.

Because Anwar cannot obtain Lebanese citizenship, he had to be sponsored as a worker by one of Hiam’s relatives to facilitate his remaining in Lebanon. Sponsorship is difficult to obtain, costs Anwar over US $1100 a year and means that he is tied to the employer named in the sponsorship application and cannot legally obtain employment elsewhere. This puts Anwar in a very vulnerable position and means in effect he is unable to contribute additional resources to the family’s upkeep. As a result, Hiam has been forced to take on a security guard position with a monthly salary of US $350 and become the main provider for the family. However, even Hiam’s employment did not confer on her family benefits that would be available to other employees’ Lebanese dependents. Consequently, the family has been forced to ask for donations to pay for ‘Amar’s tonsillectomy and it is only with the generosity of private sponsors that ‘Ayia’s special tuition costs of US $250 per month are covered. The level of anxiety these fairly common childhood needs are causing the family is considerable. Of significant concern also is that Hiam’s younger daughters are, like their sister Nour, at risk of early marriage if they are unable to find jobs and sponsorship after leaving school.


Hiam’s case is only one example of the suffering of Lebanese women as a consequence of the nationality law. Statistics show that 18,000 Lebanese families suffer from problems at several levels, namely psychological, social and economic, because of the discrimination they face.

The nationality law of Lebanon only allows a man (and not a woman) to confer Lebanese nationality upon his spouse and his children. This law, which denies women equality with men in terms of nationality, undermines a woman’s status as an equal citizen and contradicts the Lebanese Constitution, which provides that all Lebanese citizens are equal before the law and enjoy the same civil and political rights. It also contradicts many of the international human rights standards ratified by Lebanon including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Under Article 2 of CEDAW, States Parties agree to “take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.” Article 23(4) of ICCPR requires States Parties to “take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage” which the Human Rights Committee (the body monitoring implementation of ICCPR) has clarified in its general comment 28 requires States Parties to ensure that “the matrimonial regime contains equal rights and obligations for both spouses with regard to, . . .[among other things,] the capacity to transmit to children the parent's nationality.” Article 7 of CRC states that “(1) the child shall . . . have . . . the right to acquire a nationality and (2) States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.”

In its consideration of Lebanon’s report in 2008 of its compliance with CEDAW, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the body that monitors implementation of CEDAW, expressed concern about Lebanon’s reluctance to withdraw its reservation to article 9(2), which requires States Parties to grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children. The Committee was particularly concerned about Lebanon’s “assertion that it cannot, for political reasons, amend its nationality law to allow Lebanese women to pass their nationality to their children and foreign spouses.” It urged Lebanon to recognize the negative impact of its nationality law on Lebanese women married to foreigners and on the children of these women. Similarly, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in its consideration of Lebanon’s report under CRC in 2006, also expressed concern that under the current law nationality can only be conferred by the father, and urged Lebanon to “critically review its legislation, . . ., in order to ensure that . . . a Lebanese mother has the right to confer Lebanese citizenship to her children equally and without discrimination.”

Lebanese women’s rights organizations such as the National Committee for the Follow-Up on Women’s Issues (CFUWI) have been involved in national campaigns to revise the discriminatory nationality law. In April 2009, two parliamentarians proposed amendments to the nationality law to allow Lebanese women to pass their nationality to their children. In addition, in June 2009, a Lebanese court issued a judgment in a case filed by Samira Soueidan, a Lebanese woman, to get Lebanese citizenship for her children whose (deceased) father was Egyptian. The court granted this citizenship to her children in a landmark decision stating that “the Lebanese Constitution establishes the principle of equality before the law among all Lebanese, women and men. The Lebanese woman is a partner to man in citizenship, obligations and rights, and has therefore the right to give her nationality to her children if she marries a foreigner…” However, this judgment was unfortunately overturned on appeal on 18 May 2010.


What You Can Do: 

Please write to the Lebanese President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House and the Minister of Justice asking them to recognize the adverse effects that the discriminatory Lebanese nationality law has on the families of Lebanese women married to foreign men and, accordingly, to revise the Lebanese nationality law to ensure that all Lebanese citizens, male or female, have the equal right to confer their Lebanese nationality on their spouses and children. TAKE ACTION!

Letters should go to:

President Michel Suleiman
President of Lebanon
Baabda - The Presidential Palace
Beirut, Lebanon
Fax: +961 1 425 393
Tel: +961 5 468 390 / 457 111
Email: open@presidency.gov.lb

Mr. Nabih Berri
Speaker of the House
Najmeh Square
Beirut, Lebanon
Fax: +961 1 983 059
Tel: +961 1 982 045/9
Email: President@lp.gov.lb

Mr. Mohamed Najeb Mikati
Prime Minister
Grand Serail
Riad Solh Street
Beirut, Lebanon
Fax: +961 1 746 805 / +961 1 980 500
Tel: +961 1 746 800 00 / +961 1 983 022 to 30

Mr. Shakib Qorthbawi
Minister of Justice
P.O. Box 9400
Badaro - Sami el Solh Street
Near the Palace of Justice
Beirut, Lebanon
Fax: +961 1 427 975
Tel: +961 1 422 944
Email: info@justice.gov.lb

With copies to:

Mrs. Wafa Suleiman
President - National Commission of Lebanese Women
Hazmieh - Main Road - Chahine Commercial Center - 2nd Floor
Beirut, Lebanon
Fax: +961 5 955 103
Tel: +961 5 955 101/2
Email: info@nclw.org.lb

Mr. Marwan Charbel
Minister of Interior & Municipalities
P.O. Boxes 9710 and 9500
Beirut, Lebanon
Fax: +961 1 744 429
Tel: +961 1 750 607, +961 1 751 607
Email: info@moim.gov.lb

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